Mushroom Hunting on Our Bucket List
Mushroom hunting has been on our bucket list for quite some time, and our son, Matt, finally helped us check it off! That doesn’t mean we went once and we’re done, though. Since we had such a good time, we’ll be back out there. Steve told Matt, “This is like crabbing, and I might never leave!” Matt may have had a moment of panic since he had to be at work later.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest Mushrooms
Check out the official website for the low-down, but know you need to get a free mushroom-picking permit. Each person can harvest up to two gallons daily on ten calendar days. So you can pick 20 gallons of mushrooms per year. Since we only got about a skillet full, we were well under the two-gallon per day limit!
You can harvest mushrooms anywhere in the Gifford Pinchot except within the Mt. St Helens National Volcanic Monument. Good thing Matt drove us out of the monument when we went. Steve had summited the mountain the day before, and Matt only lives half an hour from Climbers Bivouac, so he knows lots of good mushroom hunting places. He and the boys came up to see us after our hike, so we got to see him two days in a row!
Harvest area maps are free, and they’re also required. So pick yours up at any Gifford Pinchot forest office or from authorized vendors. Be sure to get your map before you start picking any mushrooms. I didn’t see the maps online, so pick one up in the office. Also, if you find the link online, feel free to drop me a note in the comments.
Our mushroom hunting was for chanterelles, the most popular wild edible mushrooms. Once Matt showed us what to look for, they’re pretty easy to distinguish among the myriad other varieties growing in the Pacific Northwest. It had rained a couple of days before we went, so we saw a ton of new sprouts. We could also see that other mushroom hunters had been there the day before us, as we could also tell where they cut mushrooms at the base of the stalk.
It’s preferable to cut the stems rather than pull them up so that future mushrooms can continue growing. Matt is very respectful of the forest and it’s clear that he wanted us to be just as reverent.
Chanterelles range in color from orange to yellow to creamy white. They’re a funnel shape, and the folds or ridges on the bottom are distinguishable from the gills of other mushrooms. Our beginner’s book says only to pick non-gilled mushrooms. Of course, there are edible mushrooms with gills, but as a beginner, it’s a good rule to follow.
The mushroom cap is somewhat flat, then funnel-shaped. They curl up on the edges too. The insides of the mushrooms are white, which is a helpful identifier. However, some look-alikes are orange inside, so don’t keep those.
Foraging for chanterelles is super fun, as it turns out. There is a similarity to crabbing (or fishing) as I constantly thought the next mushroom I find will be the hugest one yet! Once we found one, we kept searching that area and usually found a few more.
Chanterelles love old-growth forests with mossy floors, just like me. So the mossy-floored forest is my happy place! Since they love trees, we did find the most mushrooms near the bases of hardwoods.
We gathered our bounty in paper bags, cleaning them as best we could. Matt said he usually brings a small soft brush, like a paintbrush, to wipe the dirt off. Another thing he brought was a hunting knife of my Dad’s, so it was neat to cut mushrooms with. Like Dad was there with us. I love how Matt honors the forest and our family. It’s pretty dang cool.
Cooking & Eating our Mushroom-hunting Bounty
After Matt headed to work, Steve and I made our way to our oldest son’s house, where we stayed the night. We cleaned (with paper towels), cooked our chanterelles, and shared them with the only two grandsons at home. Korbin didn’t care for them, but at least tried them. But Hunter, who also spent the night, really seemed to enjoy them. However, he did kid us a little by asking where the rest of our mushrooms were. Apparently, it was a small haul for what he’s used to seeing!
Steve found quite a few recipes, but ultimately, we opted for a simple cooking method to enjoy the mushrooms on their own. First, we dried them in the skillet and let the water weep out. Our mushrooms were pretty dry, but if they let out a bunch of liquid, you could drain it off.
After about five minutes, we added olive oil and gave the chanterelles a quick stir fry. Finally, we tossed in a couple of tablespoons of butter and three chopped garlic cloves. It was interesting to see how the mushrooms browned up.
The texture of the chanterelles surprised me, as they’re very meaty and chewy. They’re nothing like small button mushrooms or baby portabellas, which are common at the grocery. I very much liked the meatiness, actually. As I said though, it did pleasantly surprise me.
We’re not in the Northwest now, but I’m still hoping we’ll get another chance to go mushroom hunting again soon. I’d likely be nervous about going without a guide because there are many varieties. And I want to ensure we don’t get sick or even die! Ha!
We’ve carried around three mushroom-gathering books since we left home and have seen many types, but picking the right ones is still tricky. Having Matt guide us made our day perfect, and I can’t wait to go back out with him again.
Have you foraged for mushrooms? Leave me a comment to say how it went. Maybe you could guide us, too!